Why Did Rome Lose Africa?
“The final, irretrievable end of Roman power in Africa.”
“Just as Justinian II because of his mismanagement of the Roman empire, especially for pillaging Cyprus and breaking the peace with the Arabs, thus ruining many Roman lands, and other such things, was deprived of rule, so Leontios, though he had been enthroned for being one of the great men, has been cast out for lapsing into similar folly.”
Byzantine Emperor Leontios took the name Leo upon his coronation, and adopted a moderate political stance of appeasement. Small raids on the borders were tolerated, emboldening the Umayyads to strike further. The Muslims invaded the Exarchate of Africa in 696 AD, capturing Carthage the following year.
The Patrician John was sent to reclaim the city, which he initially did after a surprise attack on the harbour, though Umayyad reinforcements soon arrived to re-take the city, forcing John to retreat to Crete. The fall of Carthage marked the end of Roman rule in Africa which had governed the city since its fall some 843 years earlier, when the legions of Scipio had captured the Phoenecian city to end the Third Punic War in 146 BC.
Fearing the emperor’s punishment for their failure, a group of officers revolted and proclaimed the mid-level commander Apsimar as emperor. He took the name Tiberius III, gathered a fleet and sailed for Constantinople, which was in the grip of a wave of bubonic plague after Leontios’ ill-advised clearing of a harbour. After several months of siege they captured the city in 698, bringing the three-year reign of Leontios to an end. The mutilating trend continued as Leontios had his nose slit and was imprisoned in a monastery.
Tiberius made no attempt to re-take Africa, and instead focussed on the eastern border where barbarians were pouring across the Danube. He appointed his brother Heraclius as commander of the Anatolian troops, and he crossed the Tarus mountains to attack the Umayyads in Cicilia and northern Syria. He defeated an Arab army from Antioch and raided as far south as Samosta. This triggered a series of punitive Arab attacks which regained control of Armenia.
er, his wife went into the sea at midday to bathe, and a beast of Neptune rather like a Quinotaur found her. In the event she was made pregnant, either by the beast or by her …
The Armenians revolted against the caliphate though and attempts to reassert control saw the Muslims attacked in Cilicia to stall them when Heraclius defeated a large army at Sisium. Tiberius restructured the military and repaired Constantinople’s sea walls, while also agreeing with the Caliph to repopulate Cyprus.
The Themes of Sardinia and Sicily, along with the Exarchate of Ravenna, were designed to check the Muslim advance, while the patrician Philippicus Bardanes was exiled to Cephalonia after he spread word of his dreams of becoming emperor.
While the wearer of the purple kept changing in Constantinople, Justinian II escaped from Cherson (Crimea) and won the support the Khagan Busir, marrying his sister Theodora. He spent a decade earning support, during which time Tiberius sent emissaries north demanding his surrender and return to Constantinople. He evaded capture and found a new supporter in the Bulgar King Terval.
In 705 Justinian II, replete with a golden nose, lef an army of Slavs and Bulgars back to Constantinople. The days of Roman imperial authority asserting itself outward against the barbarians had now been replaced by said barbarians asserting their authority to determine who would be the Roman Emperor.
For three days they besieged the city, after which they found an old and disused conduit which ran under the walls. Justinian used this to infiltrate the city, exiting at the northern edge of the wall near the Palace of Blachernae, while Tiberius III fled to Sozopolis in Bithynia, ending his seven-year rule. He eluded capture for months before he was found and, along with Leontios, were brough to the Hippodrome to be publicly humiliated before being beheaded.The bodies were initially thrown into the sea, only to then be recovered and buried in a church on the island of Prote.
The return to power of Justinian was marked by unsuccessful campaigning against the Bulgars and the Umayyads, turning on the khan who had crowned him and supported his return to power. He invaded Bulgaria to recover territories ceded to Tervel for his reward, only to be defeated and blockaded in Anchialus and forced to retreat. Peace was restored, though this was followed by Muslim victories in Asia Minor and the cities of Cilicia fell and the Arabs punched into Cappadocia. He prepared a punitive expedition against Ravenna to reassert the authority of Constantinople, and after the new Pope Constantine visited the city, the authority of the Roman Church was reaffirmed. This would be the last time a pope would visit the city until the arrival of Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in 1967.
Justinian’s divisive rule provoked another uprising against him. Cherson revolted, and under the exiled general Bardanes managed to hold out against a counterattack. Forces sent to quell the revolt instead defected to it, and Bardanes was proclaimed as Emperor Philippicus. Justinian was travelling to Armenia and thus unable to return to Constantinople in time to defend it. He was arrest and executed in November 711, with his head exhibited in Rome and Ravenna. He was 42-years-old, and had ruled the Byzantine Empire for a total of 16 years, first for a decade and then, following a decade-long interlude, a further six years. His mother took his six-year-old son an co-emperor Tiberius to St Mary’s Church in Blachernae for sanctuary, but were dragged from the alter and murdered, ending the line of Heraclius.
As the Byzantines tumbled unto chaos, the Muslim rise continued to gather pace in every direction. After the capture and destruction of Carthage, the port town of Tunis was built to host a new fleet. The Berbers were defeated and their warrior queen al-Kahina executed, while waves of conquest continued to push through north Africa to capture Tangier and Sus in 708.
In 711 the Muslims crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to enter Hispania, and within five years the bulk of the Iberian Peninsula was annexed, bringing to a rapid end the Kingdom of the Visigoths which had controlled the region for three centuries. Eastern expansion continued into Iraq, with campaigns against the previously impenetrable region of Transoxiana (central Asia) annexing towns including Bukhara in 706, Khwarazm and Samarkand in 711, and Farghana in 713. The Sind in south Asia were conquered before eastward expansion ground to a halt, with the Tang Chinese defeating the Arabs at the Battle of Aksu in 717, forcing a withdrawal.
In the west, another important reign was coming to an end. While Byzantium had been in chaos, Pepin the Middle had brought stability to the Franks, establishing the mayors as the de facto rulers above the kings of the Merovingian dynasty. He was 79 years old when he died suddenly in 714, and shortly before his death decided to disinherit his sons born by his mistress Alpaida in favour of his grandson, Theudoald, his grandson through his wife Grimoald. Theudoald may have been legitimate, but he was still young and pliable.
His mother Plectrude sought to ensure the rule of her children after Pepin’s death, though one Pepin’s sons had gained a large following of his own, particularly among the Austraians. Renowned for his military success, he kept them well supplied with booty and rose to become sole mayor of the palace, driving out Plectrude as a de factor ruler of the Franks following a civil war. His rise would come at a time when the Franks needed unity in the face of Islamic expansion across the Pyranees. History would call him Charles the Hammer.